"Scarlett Alysha Devous," he started. "I have known you for years. I have been your friend. I have laughed with you, cried with you, yelled with you, and talked to you for hours on end. Every one of my best memories has you. Every second that I live I think about you, and every time I breathe I am reminded of how much you mean to me. I love you, and nothing would make me feel more complete than if you would be willing to bind with me."
Theodore opened the box.
Inside was the most beautiful ring Scarlett had ever seen. It was a pure, simple silver, though it was adorned with diamonds, every single one glittering as if they were the stars themselves. On the band was one simple phrase.
Always and forever.
The ring still resided on her finger.
It was just as beautiful, just as stunning, as it had been that day back in November. No part of it appeared as if it had even been worn, tarnishes nonexistent, and it was impossible not to marvel at it despite whatever history it had.
Scarlett stared down at the ring, examining it. She was amazed that, despite everything—from how she had not spoken to Theodore in months to how there had been a time that she had loved to be in the forest—there was nothing that made it personal, nothing that made it seem as if it were hers. If the ring had still been in the box it had come in, nobody would be the wiser. Nobody would suspect that Theodore Nott had once given it to his then-fiancé to declare his love for her. If the ring had still been in the box it had come in, nobody would have even guessed that Theodore and Scarlett had any ties to each other. It would be as if they had never had history, if they had never once been in love and lost it all because she had chosen Sirius.
It would be as if their relationship had never existed.
Scarlett slowed from her unusually fast pace, stopping in the middle of a corridor which was empty save for the flickering lanterns that lined the side of the wall, and breathed, her eyes clamping shut at the pain the action exerted. Weaving a hand through her hair, her fingertips memorizing the texture of each strand, she leaned against the corridor wall and slowly sank until she had curled up in a ball, her arms wrapping around her shins and her knees providing support for her chin.
She spent a few moments merely staring at the wall that was straight ahead of her, thinking of absolutely nothing, and then she couldn't help herself. Rearranging her body so it was more compact, she detached her right hand from her shin and turned it, the silver band gleaming in the dim lights around it.
Always and forever.
As it had turned out, Scarlett did not deserve in the slightest any taste of always or forever. She had been given the opportunity to have the idea; she knew that, if she had not known Sirius, Theodore and her would have been one of the strongest Pureblood couples. They would have had children. They would have lived together, laughed together, cried together. They would have still been together.
It would have been, technically, perfect. Theodore loved Scarlett and Scarlett loved Theodore, and no matter what kind of love it was they would have been content in always and forever. No matter if, under inspection, Scarlett did not love Theodore the way he loved her, it would have been manageable, more manageable than other arranged marriages. Scarlett had been fortunate enough that her prospects for marriage had not been abusive or neglectful or even relatively unknown.
It had been Theodore. Theo. Her best friend.
She had been face-to-face with spending always and forever with her best friend.
But Scarlett did not.
Because, though Scarlett knew that it would have been perfect, as much as any human being had deserved, she had been unable to bring herself to live with it. She had been unable to take the irresistible offer, though she had been very close to. After all, there had been a time when she had been deluded.
But she remembered the fight with Sirius from so long ago, when they had not been a couple, when they had not been enemies, and remembered her realizations that, no matter how supposedly perfect everything was to be, no matter how perfect they had seemed together, the perfection was not there because of her fancy to Theodore, but because of Voldemort's ridiculous, idealistic fantasy of Pureblooded society.
She was angry about what he had said regarding Theodore. Theodore was the only thing that kept her from going insane. He kept her grounded, but he took her over to a whole new world, one that looked exactly the same as the world she knew before but wasn't.
Wasn't that love? Of course it was moving awfully fast, but didn't they have decades over decades to learn? Their marriage would fit snugly over what they had believed. It—
It shouldn't have to fit with anything.
This realization was enough for Scarlett to sit up in her bed and nearly hit her head on the bedpost.
That was what Sirius had been trying to tell her. He had not worded it in an eloquent way. But there it was...
Her marriage to Theodore, one that she thought over with excitement, had always been described as a perfect fit. A perfect match. And she had only slightly been referring to their personalities, their outward love, or lust, or fancy, or whatever they felt for each other.
But, mainly, she dwelled on how pleased Voldemort would be. How there was no struggle or resistance from either of them as they were so happy to wed, weren't they?
Scarlett had to restrain herself from laughing as the recollection came into her mind.
She could not believe that she had been quite so... naïve. Naïve and obedient. She recognized that, throughout the beginning of the year, every one of her actions had been towards pleasing Voldemort because she had been so obsessed with doing so. She had diligently reported each thing of importance to him, confessed even her pettiest of emotions because she believed their connection was only for inside information; and what a ridiculous thing to think! How could she have ever imagined that Voldemort had been anything less than absolute evil?
She had even mailed Sirius on his insistence, though looking back on the recollection it was plain to see that she had not had a choice in if she mailed the letter or not. She could see, when before she could not, that even during the beginning of September Voldemort had made his possession of her incredibly obvious. How, each time she had spoken to him, she would feel that familiar wave of dizziness; how, each time she spoke to him, she would feel a strong desire to sleep; and how, when she dreamed of the forest, everything was in such detail that it couldn't have just been a dream.
Naïve and obedient and pliable, she recognized. She had been so willing, so eager, to follow in Voldemort's footsteps, to let him lead her. She had been under the delusion that it was for everybody's best interest. He could have convinced her of everything, and she knew that, most of the time, he did.
And now... now, she was not even close. She was experienced; Voldemort had punished her in every single way imaginable. Days had passed where she had not slept and had had to go to class, pretending to be just as unaffected as she had been the days following her breakup with Theodore. Days had passed where she had been starved, but had been forced to go to the Great Hall just to watch others eat, just to taunt her.
Voldemort was not kidding when he was threatening her. He was not an inexperienced man; looking at him from a logical standpoint, he was, honestly, one of the most talented wizards the world had ever seen. Spells that had never even been fathomed before were thought up by Voldemort in an instant, tortures so gruesome that no man would be able to attempt them without wanting death frequently practiced.
She had known, when she had fainted and had a life-changing dream—or whatever it had been—that the road to freedom would not be easy. Sirius had told her as much when they still spoke and she voiced her concerns about the arranged marriage. Freedom was not supposed to come easy; freedom had to be earned.
Yes, she had to take a different path to get her freedom than most. It was her versus a man of extreme Dark Magic and a plethora of talent and skill in making these spells occur. The battle was imbalanced; she had only turned eighteen two months ago, and, two months ago, she could have never foreseen this. She could have never foreseen isolation and pain beyond imagining.
She should've known better.
I'm tired. So tired. And the couch is right there.
Theodore would get angry. He dislikes whenever you sleep on the couch. You should go up to your bedroom. Then you can sleep there and wake up to a fresh Sunday. A new week. Oh, the possibilities.
Of course you are. You did, after all, just slouch onto a bed freezing from the fan the whole day. Close your eyes and it will get warmer.
And she could not help herself from laughing this time; bitter and cold, it pierced the complete silence, one sharp trill and then nothing.
She remembered how easy it would have been, how simple it had been, to deny him. Just initially, though; he would always, always persuade her to do differently, because she had adored him and believed to have understood him. She would always succumb to his persuasions and only his persuasions. He had not had the power, back in September, to possess her the way that he did now.
But, now... she winced as a tremor of headache—his doing, despite what she had thought at first—surged from the roots of her hair to the ends of her toenails. Now, she knew, the battle would be constantly uphill. When she overcame him, it would only be for rare moments, for instants, and then it would cease as she struggled for her own skin back.
It was her consequence for allowing him total and full control for weeks of her life—weeks that she could not even recall, she had been so lost in the delusion of feeling nothing—and, even weeks after, his new influence was easy to fall into, still. Because she had made that mistake, because she had let him in, because she had been so overwhelmed by Sirius and Theodore and everyone loathing her, she had to suffer even now.
She did not know how she still was living sometimes. There was always something new to make her suffer, publicly, privately, with or without Regulus. Always, and what felt like forever, she squirmed under his orders, and felt herself denying the obvious decision every second that passed. Somehow, she had the control enough to refuse to be possessed.
There were times when she had gotten dangerously close. She liked to call these nights, aptly enough, 'bad nights', because when she experienced them she did not possess the creativity or even thought to imagine a different way to describe them.
They were just bad. She would lose herself for hours in struggle, trapped within her own head. At points, it would appear as if he had won; she would feel herself become withdrawn, as if she had been placed in a cage.
But always, somehow, she overcame it. Somehow, she was learning. There was still hope.
She did not know how there was. From what she had just experienced, the hopes of reconciling with her old friends, of making them understand, were gone, and she could understand that. Though she missed Theodore, she had wronged him more than she could ever know, beyond her comprehension.
And she was able to see a glimpse of what she had done, as Voldemort liked to remind her daily. She could see how he was different; he didn't speak as often as he used to, and did not laugh anymore. Voldemort, in saying that Theodore would now have no more doubts about being a Death Eater, had been completely right, and she had had to suffer in her guilt in every glance she spared him.
He would not know...
She took a deep breath as she put her head in her hands, the ring caressing her cheek. Always and Forever.
She could feel him now, taking advantage of her pain, ready to attempt to convince her that she did not want this pain. She did not have to feel it. She could allow him, just once, to take control, for her to lose it...
But, she shot up, her head almost hitting the wall behind it with concussing force. Because, no matter how close she was to losing control, no matter how close she was to missing what she had had, no matter how much she wished Theodore wasn't the way he was, that he would know differently, no matter how much she ached that he could have known differently, no matter how much she hated all of the mistakes she'd made...
She had the will, however weak, however wounded, to defeat Voldemort. Tenereus's sacrifice helped her to remember that she had to keep fighting. Regulus helped her retain whatever was left of her sanity.
And the pain, though unbearable, was the better alternative than nothing, despite what Voldemort said. It gave her hope that she was still alive. That, in face of everything, in face of how much they'd all changed, she was still alive, no matter how much he wanted her dead.
She could feel the pain, more and more, and she smiled through it, standing up with effort and walking towards the dormitory, away from where she knew Ambrose and Theodore still were.
She knew the battle was rough. That she was still feeling the punishment for her mistakes.
There was still always that hope, though. Voldemort had once told her that she would lose everything.
But she hadn't. Not yet.
She had learned her lesson. The way she had learned was the more curious detail of the statement, because learning what was bad and what was good did not necessarily make for purity and perfection. Opinions, regarded as stupid by many except for the one who housed them, mutated these lessons, and she could suddenly see, she could see as clearly as she could her dream, that she wanted the lessons to be mutated. She wanted to disregard them and wanted to laugh in their face even though she knew full well the consequences. The desire festered at the tips of her fingers before spreading throughout her body, and for the first time in so very long Scarlett could feel a spark of fire defrosting a heart that she had not truly been grateful for in months.
Her mind, which had been dormant by little thought, erupted like a volcano at the fire, and immediately all of her old thoughts and ideals swelled back to her. Her resolution became completely obvious as her mind began contemplating a slew of options that she had, things she could do to stay strong against him, ways to avenge Tenereus—and she knew now that it was he that had killed Tenereus—and she grew excited. For the first time that year, negativity was shoved aside in lieu of hope, hope for the future just as much as hope for now, now, now...